Saturday essay: Grand delusions
Things are not always as they seem. Take, for instance, public rail transportation and its touted nexus to economic development and growth.
Passenger rail is making new inroads in many parts of the country. Two of the newest lines are SunRail in the Orlando area, a heavy rail system, and a light-rail system in Washington, D.C., akin to Pittsburgh’s trolley system.
The first phase of SunRail is supposed to bow in Central Florida next Thursday. And when the second phase is complete in 2016, the $1 billion line will run more than 60 miles (but not to any Disney/Universal attractions).
In the nation’s capital, the trolley along the H Street retail corridor is scheduled to debut this summer, the first of eight lines citywide running 22 miles and another billion bucks. The H Street line alone is costing about $135 million.
Proponents typically shill for such pricey public rail lines as being wonderful economic generators. The overall experience in Pittsburgh, however, debunks that notion. And more and more research suggests that the only economic boon is for developers, who are enticed to build along these rail corridors with heavy public subsidies — a necessity to make the central planners’ dream of “transit-oriented development” come true.
It’s all a grand delusion for which taxpayers repeatedly are molested — and for either de minimis or negative economic consequences to boot.
— Colin McNickle